In Summary
  • A task force has been conducting an operation to crack down on plants that have been flouting mining rules.
  • The dead man was among 11 people who were toiling in the mines during the 8pm tragedy.
  • The victims who had been buried in the debris were rushed to Lwala Community Hospital for first aid and treatment.

The closure of over 40 gold mining and processing plants in Migori County in the past three weeks has unmasked the powerful tycoons behind the lucrative enterprise that is also responsible for the suffering of thousands of workers who have for years been exploited by the owners for years.

Determined to reverse the trend, a government-appointed task force headed by the Migori County Commissioner Joseph Rotich has been conducting an operation to crack down on plants that have been flouting mining rules.

TEAM

The team comprises officers from the Mining ministry, Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), National Environment Management Authority (Nema), Immigration, security agencies, Labour ministry, the National Land Commission and the Interior ministry.

On Thursday, Mining Cabinet Secretary John Munyes held a meeting with members of the agency team as well as Migori Governor Okoth Obado, whose two gold processing plants were found to be operating illegally and shut down.

“If we don’t move with speed to regulate the industry, we will have ourselves to blame,” warned Mr Munyes.

The crackdown comes in the wake of the death of one miner on Thursday evening after a mine caved in at Kopudho gold mine in Rongo Sub-County, Migori, exposing the dangerous conditions the labourers work under.

TRAGEDY

The dead man was among 11 people who were toiling in the mines during the 8pm tragedy.

One survivor, Maurice Obwar, 41, told the Nation that the walls of the mine collapsed, burying them underneath.

"I have been in the mines for two decades now, but yesterday’s incident was a shocker. The debris kept falling on us," Mr Obwar said.

He added: "We were staring at death and we kept screaming, luckily those who were outside came to our rescue. One of us was badly hit," said the survivor.

INJURED

The victims who had been buried in the debris were rushed to Lwala Community Hospital for first aid and treatment and one who was severely injured was referred to Kisii Teaching and Referral Hospital (KTRH) where he died while receiving medical attention.

Mr Julius Omondi, a doctor at the hospital, confirmed receiving the patients.

"We received three patients who had been rescued from Kopuodho mine at around 9pm. I had referred the deceased to KTRH upon noticing that he had severe head and chest injuries," said Mr Omondi.

According to the clinician, the other two had soft tissue injuries and were discharged on Friday morning.

Mr Obwar called on the government through the mining department to ensure safety measures for those venturing in the business.

"The government should ensure that miners are safe while conducting their business. We need protective clothing and machines to help us avert future hazards," he said.

POWERFUL TYCOONS

Investigations by the Nation established that the mines are owned by powerful and well connected individuals, including Mr Obado and top officials at the Migori County government.

Others include a former Kenyan ambassador, several Chinese investors and prominent businessmen in the county.

The tycoons, we established, mint a minimum of Sh2 million from a kilogram of gold while the poor labourers take home only a few hundred shillings daily for their sweat.

Among the owners of the plants include Migori county secretary and close Obado ally, Mr Christopher Rusana, whose sites are among those which have been served with closure notices.

SHUT DOWN

Dr Magita Machage, who was until 2010 the Ambassador of Kenya to Russia, has also had his sites shut down. He is the twin brother of former Migori senator Dr Wilfred Machage.

Margaret Omondi of Peggy Enterprises is another affected proprietor. She is said to be a close relative of a vocal ODM senator in the country.

Three Chinese investors also own several mines which have since been closed down for contravening the Mining Act.

Others include Mr Tom Were who also enjoys close ties with the Migori County government leadership.

Mr Daniel Marwa and Daniel Moi from Kuria are other top players in the gold industry in Migori Mounty.

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